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What has happened to chapter books?!

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Hi, everyone,

In another thread in Chapter Books, Debbie Vilardi notes:

"Chapter books are almost always sold as a series. That's something to have in mind. Chapter books also have the same audience as picture books age wise, ages 4-8. But they are for kids who are reading on their own. The themes and topics are therefore less sophisticated than those for middle grade novels. They're also shorter, topping out at about 10,000 words and starting as short as 5,000. The popular ones are very popular and kids are loyal to them. It's best to have one written fully and another two outlined in full with ideas for more. These series go deep."

This has also been my conception of chapter books and their market, for a long time.

Imagine my surprise, then (he says), when I walk in to the children's section at my public library, after not having been there in a couple of years (shameful!), and being greeted at the entrance with a very large rack of books called "Chapter Books."

These didn't look like any other chapter books I've seen:

1--They all were 275 pages, at minimum.

2--They all appeared to be stand-alone novels, not parts of series. Hardcover, beautiful covers.

3--Opening a bunch of them at random, I found that the language in most was at the level I always associated with MG novels.

4--If there hadn't been the sign "Chapter Books" above them, I would have just assumed they were a rack of middle grade novels.

Rather stunned and perplexed, I went over to the children's librarian and asked, What's happened to chapter books? These all look like MG novels to me.

He said that chapter books had undergone a fundamental transformation in recent years. He said that the old familiar paperback chapter book series like Boxcar Children were still available, on a single shelf in the PB room. But, he said, most of the new chapter books were indeed like MG novels in size and language, maybe just a tad lower than middle grades.

When I asked him What happened?, He said, "Harry Potter." He said that 5-8-year-olds now want BIG chapter books with meaty stories..

Have any of you noticed these developments?

Best,
Gatz
#1 - February 21, 2019, 11:53 AM
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My son is currently almost 17, so my experience is a little out-dated (apparently), but when he was reading chapter books, the big series was Magic Treehouse. This was in Kinder and 1st, and he read quite a few. However, at the end of 1st grade, he picked up Harry Potter, read the entire series in 6 months, and never looked back...so yeah, I can see how that's made a difference.

At the same time, my nephew, who is currently 9 and in 3rd grade, doesn't really love reading. He's still reading books like Magic Treehouse (and some kind of graphic novel series -- I can't recall the name, even though I'm apparently the one who first got him hooked, LOL). So I do think it depends a lot on the reading ability and interests of the kids. And my niece (other side of the family) who just turned 8 also just started Harry Potter a week or so ago...so some kids are waiting til they're older.
#2 - February 21, 2019, 11:58 AM
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My grandson is 11 and struggles with reading. He likes The Notebook of Gloom series and Eerie Elementary series which both seem like old school chapter books to me. Maybe the librarian has a different understanding or use for the term Chapter Books than the pub world does. I think both of these series (at least The Notebook of Gloom) are still adding new books, but they would have started a while ago. Things could have changed since then.

I still think there is a need and a market for the old school chapter books. I hope they don't disappear.
#3 - February 21, 2019, 12:30 PM

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My daughter is in 4th grade, and she tells me that one of the most popular books in her class is "Land of Stories."  The books in this series each have close to 500 pages.  The Harry Potter series is what's "hot" with the 1st-3rd graders at her school.  The "chapter books" that were popular in years past (like "Magic Treehouse") are still read but largely by a very young crowd it seems.
#4 - February 21, 2019, 12:57 PM

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Interesting, Gatz. I worry about children losing their innocence too early. My own kids were precocious readers and I'm glad there was plenty of books that suited their tender hearts. They weren't ready for dementors until they were 12 or so.  At my library, PBs and CBs are in one section, and MG and YA are shelved together.
#5 - February 21, 2019, 07:23 PM
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I agree, V. Just because kids can decode the words doesn't mean they are ready for the story. Another grandson of mine could read Harry Potter books quite young, but when he read them again later, he was amazed at what he hadn't understood the first time.
#6 - February 21, 2019, 07:26 PM

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I'm standing by what I wrote above. (Fun being quoted.) My library system still has a full row (both sides) of traditional chapter books. They are in the children's rooms with the picture books, MG, nonfiction, and younger DVDS. These include graphic novels for the age group too. YA is elsewhere in all four branches. Lots of kids do move from chapter books to longer works in third or fourth grade and the Magic Tree House books look longer to me than the older ones, but there are still plenty of readers for these younger books that bridge between leveled readers and MG. (I was in the kids' section today with my teens. My son still prefers a lot of MG to YA because he isn't interested in the romance aspects or darkness in a lot of YA. My daughter struggles with material for older readers and loves her old friends in the chapter books.)
#7 - February 21, 2019, 08:04 PM
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Thanks, everyone.

Debbie, I wonder whether my library, which wins a lot of awards regionally and even nationally, might be an outlier.

Perhaps they are trying to stay a few steps ahead of the trends as they see them, and even try to help recast chapter books, knowing that many library systems might follow their lead.

I don't mean this to be a cynical inference about my libraries perceptions/motives. It really is an outstanding library. But it would help me make sense of this if I knew my library was sort of out there on its own.

Gatz
#8 - February 21, 2019, 10:14 PM
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Gatz, I wonder what comes up if you Google chapter books. (Keep in mind there is some confusion with books with chapters.) Hopefully more folks will chime in here.
#9 - February 22, 2019, 05:56 PM
« Last Edit: February 23, 2019, 09:06 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
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I didn't think of that. I'll give it a try.
#10 - February 22, 2019, 10:21 PM
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Personally, I think some people confuse the technical term "chapter books" (books for emerging readers, with short chapters, up to and including Magic Treehouse) with simply "books with chapters as opposed to picture books" (ie MG novels).
#11 - February 23, 2019, 07:05 AM

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I think part of the confusion is that longer novels are being published that have great appeal to a juvenile audience.  The Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series, for example, seem to have wider appeal at the elementary grade level than they do at the MG.   I think there just isn't a specific term to describe a longer novel that has chapters but whose plot is still  juvenile (as opposed to MG) material.
#12 - February 23, 2019, 11:05 AM

I don't know whether we'll arrive at any sort of consensus, but I think this is a fruitful discussion. Thanks, everyone.

Gatz
#13 - February 23, 2019, 10:06 PM
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Gatz, could you give some examples of books you saw in that chapter books display? I'm wondering if whoever put it together was shifting books into that category from what I would call "younger MG."  But without knowing titles it's hard to make an assessment.

I agree with Debbie's description of chapter books. It's also what you find in a resource such as "A Family of Readers," which was produced by two Horn Book editors...
#14 - February 24, 2019, 12:09 PM
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Harold, thanks. I'll get up a list when I go to the library this evening and post it here.

Gatz
#15 - February 25, 2019, 10:43 AM
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There are still new chapter book series being published that you can find at bookstores. And editors and art directors at conferences still talk about them, and writers and illustrators are still creating them, both young chapter books, and older chapter books (there is a difference in length and complexity).

In my old library, chapter books were called "series books" and were hard to find until I asked the librarian and learned they were not called chapter books.

I have seen MG books called chapter books in multiple places.

Might just be your library or that librarian? Or maybe they are shelved under a different name?
#16 - March 02, 2019, 02:47 PM
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In my old library, chapter books were called "series books"

My library has them shelved as series books also. They are alphabetized by series title, not author name.
#17 - March 02, 2019, 05:53 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
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I've discussed this with my librarian in the past. What we call "middle grade" they call "chapter books." They don't use the term middle grade (that's a publishing industry term.) Of course, right now, I can't remember what they call our "chapter books." Maybe series.

 I have three chapter book series deals with Scholastic, and can confirm they were each sold in four-book deals, and are 10,000 words per book.
#18 - March 26, 2019, 04:15 PM
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I'm thinking the librarian wasn't familiar with the technical labels. Yes, some kids in lower grades might read longer books, but there is very much a need for the shorter chapter books when kids have just started to read. Not only do they need shorter books, smaller words, and shorter chapters, but they need simple plots. These books are also good for kids in 4th and 5th grade who are really literal readers  who get lost when trying to follow a complex story independently. I've noticed at my library, the chapter books have now been shelved with the middle grade novels which is frustrating to me. There is a big difference between these categories and separating the books makes it easier for readers and parents to find them.
#19 - March 27, 2019, 12:16 PM
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